What is Alpha Lipoic Acid and How Does it Impact Your Health?

ALA has been nicknamed the “universal antioxidant” because it’s in every cell in your body, protecting from free radicals. We make free radicals when we’re exposed to stress and toxins. They cause damage to cells and play a role in aging. ALA also helps our body turn food into energy. Our bodies make enough for energy production, but for optimal antioxidant benefits, we need much higher levels.

ALA’s importance was first identified in the 1950’s, and almost 40 years later it was discovered to be an antioxidant. It has also shown to be very effective in restoring levels of vitamin E and vitamin C in deficient individuals. But its benefits don’t stop there: ALA has been used to treat diabetic neuropathy in Germany for more than 30 years.

Benefits of Alpha-Lipoic Acid

Type 2 diabetes / Sugar processing

Alpha-lipoic acid has been shown to improve fasting blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity after 4-8 weeks of use. It increases your cells’ uptake of sugar and helps enzymes turn it into energy. It may also regulate genes that can affect sugar metabolism and diabetes. ALA has also been shown to improve blood flow in diabetics, which reduces common risks associated with diabetes. It also reduces symptoms of diabetic neuropathy.

Macular degeneration

Macular degeneration is a type of blindness that occurs when the central portion of the retina starts to break down with age. It is tightly connected to oxidation. ALA is not only a powerful antioxidant itself; it regenerates other antioxidants. One of the antioxidants ALA recycles is vitamin E, which slows the progression of macular degeneration. Alpha-lipoic acid has been shown to improve vision and slow the progression of macular degeneration.

Diabetic Neuropathy

As mentioned above, ALA has been used in Germany for the treatment of diabetic neuropathy for more than 30 years. There are a few studies that indicate ALA is more effective than some prescription treatments.

Antioxidant Effects

ALA continues to be studied for a variety of preventative uses because it is the only antioxidant that can enter the brain. This unique mechanism means that ALA could provide protection to the brain in circumstances of injury or other damage. The antioxidant effects also show particular promise in the prevention or treatment of certain liver diseases.

Blood Pressure

Though there are conflicting results from different studies, the combination of ALA with concurrent weight loss resulted in greater reduction of blood pressure than weight loss alone. This research is especially promising for individuals with a predisposition to high blood pressure.

Emerging Research

Alpha-Lipoic Acid may be beneficial to take with calcium and vitamin D for optimal bone health. It also has promise for helping conditions including vitiligo, rheumatoid arthritis, heart failure, and migraines. It could be helpful for neurological disorders including multiple sclerosis and dementia. ALA is said to help with age-related decline in energy, strength, and brain function. It is also being researched for potential in treating HIV.

Where Can I get Alpha-Lipoic Acid?

ALA is produced naturally in the mitochondria of all human cells, but only in levels sufficient enough for energy production. It can be found in several common foods, as listed below.

Food Sources

— Red meat

— Organ meats (liver)

— Brewer’s Yeast

— Spinach

— Broccoli

— Tomatoes

— Peas

— Brussels sprouts

ALA is often combined with L-carnitine in supplements as they have the same mechanisms within the body.

Do I Need A Alpha-Lipoic Acid Supplement?

Since ALA is produced by the human body and essential to energy metabolism, ALA deficiency is not known to truly exist. However, given its effectiveness in treating diabetic neuropathy and vitamin E and C deficiencies, there is some evidence to suggest that the body uses it ALA stores faster than usual in these conditions.

How Much Alpha-Lipoic Acid Do I Need?

Most individuals supplementing with ALA experience benefits with dosages of 300-600mg daily. For those taking ALA to treat diabetic neuropathy, dosages of 600-1200mg daily are shown to be more effective.  

What are the side effects of Alpha-Lipoic Acid?

If you are being treated for diabetes or taking other supplements that lower blood sugar, use ALA with caution.  At high doses, some individuals have reported nausea, vomiting, and dizziness when supplementing with ALA. The safety and effectiveness of ALA during pregnancy has not been evaluated, so use during pregnancy is not advised.  

Are There Any Medications or Supplements I Shouldn’t Take With Alpha-Lipoic Acid?

As mentioned above, ALA is a naturally occurring fatty acid found in the mitochondria of every cell in the body. The potential interactions listed below are theoretical and have not been proven.

HERBS AND SUPPLEMENTS WITH HYPOGLYCEMIC POTENTIAL

Theoretically, alpha-lipoic acid might have additive effects with herbs that decrease blood glucose levels. Alpha-lipoic acid can decrease blood glucose levels in humans.

Herbs with hypoglycemic potential include devil’s claw, fenugreek, garlic, guar gum, horse chestnut, Panax ginseng, psyllium, Siberian ginseng, and others.

alpha lipoic acid interactions

Antidiabetes Drugs

Theoretically, concomitant use of alpha-lipoic acid and antidiabetes drugs might cause additive hypoglycemic effects (human research).

Alpha-lipoic acid can decrease blood glucose levels in humans. Dosing adjustments for insulin or oral hypoglycemic agents may be necessary; however, in one study, co-administration of single doses of alpha-lipoic acid and glyburide or acarbose (Precose, Prandase) did not cause detectable drug interactions in healthy volunteers.

Should you be supplementing with Alpha-Lipoic Acid?

Although the FDA does not recognize ALA as a treatment for diabetic neuropathy, it has been recognized in Germany for some time. Since supplements are not regulated in the United States, it is highly recommended that you research the brand of supplement before buying.Given the promise of ALA research in the treatment of other conditions listed above – diabetes, macular degeneration, and vitligo in particular – ALA supplementation could be beneficial.

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